If you have been learning Japanese for any amount of time then you will be familiar with this dilemma. You study Japanese for weeks, months, or years. Finally, you understand a little.

Maybe your classes are going well. Or maybe you even know how to follow a basic conversation. But no matter how many kanji you learn you turn into a complete beginner the moment you open event the most basic manga series.

Is this you? Are you dying to level up your Japanese skills and finally start watching your favourite anime without subtitles? Then Yotsuba is the secret sauce you’re looking for.

The Struggles Of Learning Japanese

We spent almost a year studying without even being able to read a simple text

By far the biggest challenge we faced when learning Japanese was finding a way to break out of the ‘student mode’ that we were stuck in for a long time.

In this ‘student mode’ the only way we could interact with the Japanese language was through textbooks. For the longest time we thought if we just learn a few more words, practice a bit more grammar, then we could finally start reading manga.

Unfortunately, this is far from true. Your textbooks and study sessions are a great way to learn Japanese. But if you want to make that step into actually consuming real life Japanese than you will need to learn that as well.

The same way that speaking is a different skill to reading, it is a different skill to read a textbook versus a manga. If you never start you will never learn.

For this reason it is absolutely vital that you start somewhere. At first it will be hard. When reading your first manga you will probably spend more time with your nose buried in a dictionary than actually reading the pages.

But we guarantee that if you stick by it and practice daily, then over time you will spend more time reading and less time translating. Eventually you will be able to read manga without consulting your dictionary more than once every few pages.

Why Read Manga To Learn Japanese?

It’s easier to study a language when you use immersion

There can only be one reason why you want to learn Japanese. And no, it’s not to win scrabble matches with your amazing vocabulary. You are learning Japanese because you either want to understand or speak the language.

In both cases, the only way to learn is by actually using real Japanese. Not these exercises you see in textbooks, not practice books that use fake textbook sentences. You need real, actual people talk like this this, Japanese.

Most language learners have it rough. They end up reading blogs and books and other walls of text but we Japanese learners have something much better than that: manga.

Manga combines short text bubbles with visual cues to make it much easier for you to follow what’s happening. You have small bite size chunks to read one at a time, and even if you don’t understand everything the pictures usually help you get a sense of what is being said.

The Best Part About Learning Japanese By Reading Manga

screenshot of untranslated Gundam

Some of the best instalments in the Gundam series have never been translated into English

This makes it much easier when you see new words or grammatical concepts that you might not be too familiar with. And after enough time you’ll notice that you’ll start finding it easier to remember words and phrases because you remember the context in which it was used.

Another great benefit of learning Japanese through manga is that it can teach you colloquial speech. When you are studying Japanese you will typically only really learn formal Japanese (keigo). Manga, as you might expect, is often not written in this formal form.

Understanding Japanese will be a bit different when you first read manga because of this. Some words and grammar will be completely different than what you expect. It might seem strange or even funny at first. But you need to learn this too, after all people usually don’t talk formally with each other.

Making Learning Japanese Fun

what do you prefer

Do you really want to be buried in textbooks all day? Surely you’re learning so that you can speak and read the language

Learning Japanese takes a long time. More than that, it can get really repetitive at times. Memorizing hundreds or even thousands of kanji can really be a drag. This is why we love reading as a way of learning. It a fun and enjoyable way to immerse yourself in the language.

The great part about manga is that it is fun to read. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to grind through endless hours of repetitive learning. After all, this just isn’t effective. You want to be active and engaged when you study Japanese. This is the great thing about learning Japanese with manga: it’s just fun.

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Don’t try to approach this as another homework session. Treat is as you would reading anything else for fun. Start with a series you love, but try to keep it accessible as well. Yotsuba is a great place to start for this reason.

If you don’t understand everything perfectly, don’t worry too much about it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything perfectly, try to just read through it and understand as much as you can and follow along with the story.

Tips For Reading Your First Manga

Graphic showing how it's easier to memorize

Try to guess the meaning of phrases you don’t understand before looking it up, you’ll be surprised at how much you already know.

When you first start it will feel overwhelming, maybe even hopeless. You’ll probably be looking up most words or googling all sorts of brand new conjugations.

So when you are reading your first manga we recommend making an Anki for your manga reading. Every time you encounter a word or kanji that you don’t know you add it to this deck. This way, you’ll make it much easier to memorize them.

You’ll probably notice while going through this Anki deck that it’s much easier to remember because you remember the context. This is the idea, when you’re going through this deck try to recall when you encountered this kanji and the context in which it was used.

Why Yotsuba Is The Best Manga Series To Start With

Screenshot of yotsuba

Can you spot the colloquial speech? Source: Yotsuba vol 1

Now we get to the secret sauce. If you made it this far then you will probably have a few series in mind already. If you do, great. But. you will probably be quite surprised when you see the difficulty.

While it will be a lot of fun to read your favourite manga, we recommend starting somewhere a little easier. Yotsuba is a perfect place to start for your first manga.

Yotsuba is perfect for beginners because it’s written in a simple and short way. All the stories are short bursts that take place in a real-world setting.

Example from eminence in shadow

How often will you use 主人公 or ‘main character’ in real life? Source: Eminence in Shadow vol 1

One thing you will notice when reading your favourite manga is probably going to be how unique some of the vocabulary is. You probably won’t learn how to read ‘knight’ or ‘wizard’ until you’re a bit further in your studies. And more than that, you probably won’t use those terms in your daily life either.

Yotsuba takes place in a very normal setting that uses a very simple and normal vocabulary. This makes it much easier to start reading with the vocabulary you have.

An example of the easy to understand writing style of Yotsuba, source: Yotsuba vol. 2

Also, Yotsuba is a collection of short stories. Each volume of Yotsuba has about 5 different stories that are all quite short. This means that you can go through the volumes one story at a time. Instead of rereading the first few pages over and over again, you will be able to learn Japanese one story at a time.

Where Can You Read Yotsuba Online In Japanese

Yotsuba is available on bookwalker

BookWalker is our favourite place to buy and read manga

Our favourite place to buy manga is BookWalker. Every time you buy manga there you are directly contributing to the creator, something we find very important.

Manga at BookWalker always has a very fair price and a really easy to use interface. You can read your books on any tablet, smartphone, or computer. One thing we really like about the BookWalker app is that it has a built in dictionary.

The BookWalker website

The BookWalker website

This means you can highlight and translate any word you don’t understand from within the app. For anyone learning a new language this is HUGE. It makes it so easy to read that you’ll get started in no time. They also have a wide variety of Japanese manga.

If you want to buy Yotsuba and read it in English, you can buy it on BookWalker using this link. Otherwise, if you want the original untranslated version you can find it on Amazon.


Yotsuba vol 2

Whether you are a beginner or an intermediate, reading a manga in Japanese is a great way to learn Japanese. Of all the options out there, Yotsuba is by far the best place to start.

It’s written in colloquial speech, making it much more natural to read. The kanji you encounter will be very close to what you learn for the N5 or N4 vocabulary. And each story is short enough that you can translate them in one go.

Remember, it’s ok if you don’t understand everything. The point is that you understand enough to follow along with the story. By translating and practising it will get easier and easier over time.

Do you have any other recommendations for beginners? Let us know in the comments and we might write a special article about it.

Categorized in:

Learning Japanese,

Last Update: January 15, 2024